Struggling with questions about Alzheimer's disease?
9/22/2022 by Mairead Bartley, M.B., B.Ch., B.A.O., M.D. and Maria Mendoza De La Garza, M.D.
Dementia is a general term for disorders that affect memory and other brain functions, such as changes in the ability to perform day-to-day activities. Dementia is progressive, meaning that it worsens over time — usually years. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia.
Usually, the first symptom of Alzheimer's disease is a change in memory, with difficulty learning new things or remembering recent events. Other changes can occur as time progresses, such as changes to personality, behavior, speech, swallowing and walking.
Some people may have a family history, but aging is the most significant risk factor.
When to get help
If you notice changes in memory in yourself or a family member, you should discuss this with your primary care clinician. Some people may not notice the changes themselves. Often it is family members or others who they are close to who first notice a difference.
What can be done?
The first step is to be evaluated to assess the changes. Many issues can cause changes to memory with age, and not all of them mean Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia.
If you are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, your clinician will discuss options that can help you and your caregiver. Lifestyle options are essential, such as regular exercise, maintaining social interactions and a healthy diet. While there is no cure, medications may have some benefits. Be sure to discuss these medications with your clinician.
As memory changes, safety issues need to be addressed. Such issues include help managing medications, transportation or assistance with day-to-date activities at home.
It is essential to plan for the future. This includes thinking about what to do when the time comes that more care is needed. Preparing an advance directive allows for a person's wishes for medical care to be known. It also allows someone to be nominated to help with decision-making when needed.
A big part of caring for people with Alzheimer's disease is supporting the person and the person's caregiver. Support groups and community resources are available. Your health care professional can connect you with resources in your area.
Mairead Bartley, M.B., B.Ch., B.A.O., M.D., is a physician in Community Internal Medicine, Geriatrics and Palliative Care at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Her interests include dementia care and care of medically complex older adults in skilled nursing facilities and homebound settings.
Maria Mendoza De La Garza, M.D., is a physician in Community Internal Medicine, Geriatrics and Palliative Care at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She is a geriatrician with vast experience caring for high-risk, frail, medically complex older adults. Her clinical practice is focused across the care spectrum of skilled nursing facilities, home-based care and outpatient care.